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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Former President Trump appears in federal court in Miami tomorrow.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

He spent the weekend in the court of public opinion. He used presidential campaign events to reject a 37-count indictment related to his handling of classified documents. The indictment detailed nuclear and defense secrets that Trump took to his home and didn't return when asked. It included photos of documents stacked in a bathroom and on a ballroom stage. But in appealing to Republican voters, Trump called the indictment baseless.

INSKEEP: Other presidential candidates are appealing to those same Republican voters, so how do they talk of the indictment? NPR's Domenico Montanaro has been listening.

Hey there, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what do you say when your presidential rival is indicted?

MONTANARO: Well, you'd think it'd be very different, actually, because for the most part, they're going after the Justice Department. Now, we've seen some criticism from Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. Christie called the facts in the indictment devastating. Hutchinson says that Trump should drop out. But they're really in the minority in their party and at this point have pretty limited support. Instead, here was Trump's chief rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, during a speech in North Carolina.

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RON DESANTIS: Our Founding Fathers would have absolutely predicted the weaponization that we've seen with these agencies, particularly Justice and FBI, because when you don't have constitutional accountability, human nature is such that they will abuse their power.

MONTANARO: And there, he's essentially defending Trump. DeSantis arguing also that the DOJ's prosecutions aren't just about people at the top but regular people, too, even though there's really no evidence of that. It's really just a fear tactic that hews closely to Trump's messaging.

INSKEEP: Presumably, this plays on the feelings of Republican base voters.

MONTANARO: Definitely. You have a lot of anger in the base, and that's really been drummed up by Trump. You know, they believe him. Some supporters are even using violent rhetoric to defend him. And that's what the candidates are needing to navigate. The big question really is, though, if his rivals aren't willing to take on Trump directly on his mounting legal woes, how do they differentiate themselves? I mean, they're allowing Trump to continue to be the big fish in this GOP sea and drive the narrative with no repercussions politically.

INSKEEP: OK. So when Trump tries to drive the narrative, at least as seen on right-wing media and before crowds that come to see him, how does he defend himself?

MONTANARO: Well, he received extended applause, for example, and was greeted like a conquering hero during a speech that he made this weekend before the Georgia Republican Party. He blasted the Justice Department and made some pretty dubious claims along the way. Let's take a listen.

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DONALD TRUMP: The ridiculous and baseless indictment of me by the Biden administration's weaponized Department of Injustice will go down as among the most horrific abuses of power in the history of our country. Many people have said that. Democrats have even said it.

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, no Democrats have said that. But that seems to matter very little. I mean, this speech was Trump as the candidate of I'm rubber, you're glue - say something about me and I'll say it right back at you. You know, for example, he and many of his boosters are the ones who have spread myths and disinformation.

He lost the election and popular vote by millions of votes. And he didn't cooperate with the Justice Department to give classified documents back. And yet he accused Democrats of being the party of disinformation, claimed to have won the election by millions of votes and said it was actually President Biden who didn't cooperate with the DOJ, all of which is patently false. But this is what Trump has been able to do, convince his supporters he's actually been aggrieved even when he's done things that would have sunk nearly any other candidate.

INSKEEP: That's NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

Domenico, thanks. It's always a pleasure to hear your insights.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome. Thanks, Steve.

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INSKEEP: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has given just a little information about his country's military offensive.

FADEL: Russian defenders are also talking. So we have an early assessment of the Ukrainian move. For months now, Ukraine has gathered troops and supplies while promoting the idea that they can push back Russian invaders.

INSKEEP: So what are they doing? NPR's Greg Myre has been gathering information from Ukraine's capital, Kyiv.

Hey there, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. Starting with what the Ukrainians are saying or not saying, what do you hear?

MYRE: Yeah, Steve. For a war that's been so public and so well-documented, it's pretty strange to see this pivotal event take place with limited visibility. Now, President Zelenskyy did come out and acknowledge the offensive had been launched. He did this at a press conference Saturday with Canada's visiting prime minister, Justin Trudeau. But Zelenskyy really didn't offer details. He only said, quote, "I'm in daily contact with our commanders. Everyone is positive, so pass it on to Putin" - and, of course, a reference to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

INSKEEP: Sure.

MYRE: What we can decipher is that Ukraine is attacking three specific areas or lanes in the east and southeast. And in the middle lane, if you will, Ukraine says it's liberated four small villages. And the best evidence we have is Ukrainian soldiers posting videos, raising the blue and yellow flag there.

INSKEEP: What do those data points and claims tell you about the broader offensive?

MYRE: Well, to be sure, this is the very first salvo of what's expected to be the biggest battle of the war, one likely to play out for much of this summer, if not beyond. And it's shaping up the way many predicted. Looks like Ukraine wants to drive to the southeast coast. This would cut the Russian forces in half - one group to the east, one to the south - and leave the Russians much more vulnerable. Ukraine thinks they can do this because they have brigades that have been freshly trained in Europe. And they're going into battle with these newly acquired NATO weapons - Bradley fighting vehicles from the U.S., Leopard tanks from Germany, missiles from Britain and an assortment of other upgraded weapons.

INSKEEP: Well, how do Russians talk about this Ukrainian offensive?

MYRE: Well, Putin says the offensive is already failing, though the consensus among military analysts is it's just way too early to be making any judgments. However, the Russians did expect the Ukrainians to attack in the southeast. And they've been digging in with minefields, extensive trench networks for their troops, concrete barriers in the places Ukraine is likely to advance. Russia's defense ministry put out a photo showing about a dozen of these new Ukrainian vehicles, these Western tanks and armored troop carriers that were clustered together after they'd been damaged and then abandoned by the Ukrainians. So this is just one snapshot, but it shows Ukraine will have a tough time surprising the Russians. And a lot of these battles will be fought on flat farmland, where the attacking forces will be very much exposed.

INSKEEP: Analysts, at least some of them, speculated that Russia may have destroyed a dam the other day partly to make it more difficult for Ukraine to advance in some areas. What is the situation now in the areas that were flooded?

MYRE: Yeah, the water is receding around the southern city of Kherson. But the damage is extensive and the recovery will be long. Now, the two countries are blaming each other without proof, but the circumstantial evidence does point towards Russia. And Ukraine says Russia is using this flooded area to move troops out of the south eastward, where they can reinforce the Russian troops that are defending against the main part of Ukraine's offensive.

INSKEEP: Oh, they feel that the flood - supposedly feel that the flood is itself a defensive wall, which makes it easier to move troops elsewhere. Greg, thanks so much.

MYRE: Sure. Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Greg Myre.

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INSKEEP: If it's any consolation to his supporters, Donald Trump is not the only former leader facing legal trouble.

FADEL: Nicola Sturgeon, the former leader of Scotland, was arrested over the weekend. She says the experience was, quote, "deeply distressing." Scotland is part of the U.K. but has its own legislature. Until a few months ago, Sturgeon was its leader as the head of a party that favored full independence. But her party is under investigation for what it did with pro-independence campaign donations.

INSKEEP: Reporter Willem Marx is following all this. Hey there.

WILLEM MARX: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: How did the arrest work?

MARX: Well, in terms of the actual arrest, we know that she agreed ahead of time with Scottish police to be interviewed and was then arrested and questioned after she arrived for that interview. It's part of this two-year investigation into the finances of the Scottish National Party focused on almost $1 million worth of donations by party activists that had been essentially earmarked for future pro-independence campaigning. And there are questions about what exactly happened to that money.

Three people had been signing off on the party's accounts, the former CEO, who happens to be Sturgeon's husband who stepped down from that role before his own arrest earlier this year, the party's treasurer, who was also arrested then released earlier this year before resigning from that post, and now Sturgeon herself, who, let's not forget, has dominated Scottish politics for the best part of a decade, with some eight years as the country's first minister.

INSKEEP: I think I understand this a little better. She said she was stunned by the arrest. And you're telling me that she did voluntarily go to the police station but may not have expected to be arrested while she was there for an interview, is that right?

MARX: Absolutely right. Yeah.

INSKEEP: OK. So what does this arrest, particularly on these suspicions, mean for independence efforts in Scotland?

MARX: Well, you know, the party's already faced a huge amount of pressure both from supporters and political opponents even before this happened. Sturgeon's decision to step down as leader earlier this year sparked a leadership contest that was pretty divisive. The ongoing investigations completely overshadowed her successor Humza Yousaf's efforts to reunify the party. And in fact, there are now members of the SNP itself demanding that Sturgeon be suspended from the party. She's still a sitting member of the Scottish Parliament, insisted that her release - she'd return to work soon after that.

Part of the problem underlying all this is a challenging financial position for the party. The funds at question in this inquiry were for any future pro-independence referendum. The widely held expectation had been the party would continue pushing for this, even though legal avenues to make that happen have been pretty much exhausted. But these events around the party's top leaders or former top leaders may well make it very hard for the SNP to raise funds from supporters in the future.

INSKEEP: OK, bring us up to date on another U.K. leader. Sturgeon, you said, is still in the Scottish Parliament. But then there's the broader U.K. Parliament, which no longer includes Boris Johnson. The former prime minister resigned. Why?

MARX: Well, he seems to have made that decision, Steve, ahead of a committee report into misleading statements he made to Parliament about Downing Street lockdown parties, you may remember, during the pandemic.

INSKEEP: Sure.

MARX: That could have sparked a recall election that could have lost him his parliamentary seat. And he seems to have jumped before he was pushed. It seems, also, to have sparked the resignation of at least two other members of the Conservative Party, meaning there are now three parliamentary seats that need to be contested in local by-elections in the weeks ahead. His successor, Rishi Sunak, has already seen an erosion to the vast parliamentary majority that Johnson helped win for them at the last general election. And with his party trailing quite a way behind the main Labour opposition, it could mean he loses those newly available seats. And the narrative of Conservative defeat at the next election is further cemented, Steve.

INSKEEP: Willem Marx.

Thanks so much.

MARX: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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